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Accumen: Laboratory Supply Chain Disruption Continues but Mitigation Strategies Exist

ACCUMEN Inc | Mr Brent Bolton
ACCUMEN Inc | Mr Brent Bolton

The global supply chain is extremely volatile. The COVID-19 pandemic created a supply disruption domino effect that nobody could have predicted. Global economists agree there’s no end in sight to the ongoing supply disruptions. These interruptions to product availability affect every industry – healthcare, technology, manufacturing, and agriculture. To reduce supply shortages, companies, entrepreneurs, and significant market players are joining technology and research partners to deliver the most cost-effective products to customers.

The challenge is how to integrate this into a company’s daily operations. The answer lies in the efficient management of the supply chain, especially in industries where the gap between supply and demand is highly volatile, like in most healthcare organizations. That’s where Accumen Inc. comes in – providing expert solutions to over 1,000 hospitals and 4,000 physician practices and clinics in the U.S. to address complex issues with its strategic and operational lab services, Comprehensive Patient Blood Management (cPBM), and 3D medical post-processing imaging.

The company’s service line is guided by its Vice President and General Manager of Supply Chain – Mr. Brent Bolton, who has been in supply chain and strategic sourcing for over 20 years. “I’m passionate about supply chain and the effect that is has on an organization’s ability to support their customers, improve quality and service, and reduce operating costs.”

Enabling Accumen in Business Processes

Accumen partners with U.S. health systems to assess and implement key operational and clinical transformational changes, focusing primarily on the ancillary services department.

As the leading technology-enabled services company, it provides expert analysis and recommendations for key operational and clinical decisions and expands the productivity of provider teams through shared services and managed resources. Brent says, “This process automates and accelerates desired results and places data in the right hands, at the right time through technology-enabled analytics.”

Accumen has a wealth of experience and expertise, as well as a strong national network in Lab, Imaging, and Patient Blood Management. These are all enabled by extensive operational and clinical data as well as analytic technology solutions.

Driving with Passion

Brent joined Accumen almost a decade ago when the organization was a start-up with only one healthcare partnership. He shares, “I always wanted to work in healthcare. I knew Accumen was the right fit for me after learning that the organization’s vision was to improve and enhance laboratory operations. This aligned with my experience and personal commitment to creating value in operations and strategic sourcing.”

Therefore, he took a risk and left a large manufacturing firm with a robust team to develop the supply chain service line at Accumen from the ground up. Now, because of the dynamic and growing supply chain solution at Accumen, Brent leads a dedicated team of experts nationwide. In addition, during his tenure at Accumen, he has facilitated the company’s extensive growth to more than 50 healthcare partnerships.

Offering Laboratory Strategic Sourcing Services

The supply chain in healthcare relies heavily on buying groups that are called Group Purchasing Organizations (GPO). GPOs negotiate high-level pricing with supply vendors that utilize a tier-based model for GPO-member health systems. Accumen is unique because it is a third-party intermediary between health systems and supply vendors – providing health system partners with the most aggressive lab pricing, regardless of the organization’s qualifying tiers.

Elaborating on this, Brent says, “Our model is different because we have a vested interest in seeing savings come to fruition. We are not compensated unless lab costs are reduced. Because of our trusted relationships with more than 50 health systems, we are constantly negotiating these complex lab agreements for our partners.”

Additionally, their supply chain team is an experienced group of lab subject matter experts and medical laboratory scientists. “The knowledge and experience of Accumen’s supply chain team is unrivaled within the industry”, Brent proudly asserts.

Bending the Cost Curve

Between supply disruptions and inflation, healthcare costs are skyrocketing. This creates a growing strain on tightening lab budgets and health system profitability.

Keeping this in mind, Accumen creates value through its Lab Strategic Sourcing offering. They achieve significant results because of their unique role with health system partnerships, their talented team, national vendor relationships, and extensive market data.

As part of an Accumen partnership, the team does extensive test menu optimization on existing lab equipment and make vs. buy analyses to determine if testing should be done internally or externally and consistently seek opportunities in reference lab consolidation.

“For example, during the COVID-19 pandemic, hospital laboratories had to acquire a lot of molecular testing equipment, which had overlapping test menus. As a result, we are currently working with many of our partners to standardize and consolidate molecular testing. Another strategy for reducing costs would be through test utilization management.”

Accumen’s nationally recognized Lab Stewardship program partners with clinicians to determine the clinical efficacy of the tests being ordered. He comments, “After all, the best way to reduce a cost is to avoid the expense in the first place. This is not only good for the patient but also for the health system’s bottom line.”

When the Going Gets Tough, the Tough Gets Going

Major supply chain disruptions are generally caused by some sort of constraint like a pandemic, geopolitical event, natural disaster, or major recall. When those disruptions occur, it has a domino effect throughout the supply chain and constrains both supply and labor resources. In supply chain terminology, this is called the Bullwhip effect.

The current COVID-19 pandemic is an unfortunate example of this perfect storm. In general, hospital supply chain groups are suffering from staffing shortages. The supply chain team responsible for sourcing lab products is even more impacted because laboratory expenses are such a small portion of the hospital’s total budget.

During a crisis, hospital lab sourcing managers are strained more than usual, trying to seek out alternate sources of supply. This reduces their ability to perform proactive lab strategic sourcing. In such situations, Accumen assists in two ways:

  • First, their core business is to do lab strategic sourcing. They partner with Lab and Supply Chain departments in health systems to create a long-term roadmap that will ultimately drive cost reductions and increase value for the health system.
  • Secondly, they have created a secondary lab distribution network that their clients can utilize.

Brent remarks, “We have been developing a vast network of hundreds of regional distributors who are minority/veteran/women-owned businesses that don’t typically sell to hospitals. The distributors might primarily sell to a physician group or some private practitioner. They sell the same products that the hospital lab uses, so we utilize this network as our source for supplies.”

These sources are not available to the hospital sourcing agent, so clients benefit by leveraging the Accumen partnership to source any hard-to-find supplies.

Enhancing with Clinical Transformation Services

In addition to Lab Strategic Sourcing, Accumen also has a robust variety of clinical service line offerings. One of the most successful and impactful is their Comprehensive Patient Blood Management (cPBM) program.

For many hospitals, a blood transfusion is the most common inpatient medical procedure. Blood products are also one of the largest line items in a multimillion-dollar laboratory budget. Unfortunately, transfusion practice often varies widely between physicians within a hospital and between hospitals – a variation that is often not explained by differences in patient acuity. Transfusion is frequently used when they are avoidable or inappropriate. Studies show that 40-60 percent of transfusions are unnecessary.

Accumen optimizes healthcare through its technology-enabled clinical optimization in relationship to blood management. Accumen’s cPBM program is a patient-centered, systematic, evidence-based approach to improve outcomes by managing and preserving blood, while promoting patient safety. Accumen’s cPBM program deploys two key technologies, PBM Analytics, and MyBloodHealth® that are supported by consulting and education services.

Empowering Hospitals Through Technology

The Accumen cPBM program would not be successful without robust analytics and software technology. Therefore, as health systems emerge from the COVID-19 pandemic, there is a need to accelerate enterprise Lab I.T. Analytics that provide strategies and respond resiliently to future questions. This enables health systems to manage the constant challenges of staffing shortages, regulatory obligations, and ever-increasing standards for quality patient outcomes and physician satisfaction.

Sharing deeper insights on this, Brent says, “Accumen Technology Solutions (ATS) deploys Lab I.T. Analytics to drive standardized and more efficient workflows. Our ATS also offers performance analytics that provides real-time visibility and actionable insights to support transformations for key lab focus areas such as Lab Quality and Service, Lab Stewardship, Lab Outreach Excellence, and Lab Productivity.”

Strategizing to Mitigate Supply-Chain Risks

All current market data suggests that supply chain costs and supply shortages will continue in the foreseeable future. Therefore, all health systems need to immediately review buying practices to ensure they are purchasing from the distributor that provides the most value.

Additionally, health systems need to do a thorough analysis of the tests being sent to secondary reference labs and determine what can be processed at the primary reference lab or in-house.

Brent affirms that both these strategies would yield immediate cost savings. He suggests that a long-term strategy that generates significant value is through a lab strategic sourcing roadmap. Without a strategic sourcing plan, hospital laboratories will continue to be reactive.

For the same purpose, Accumen partners with a health system to create a methodical, long-term, and strategic sourcing roadmap. In doing so, he says, “We identify opportunities for vendor consolidations, cost reductions, test menu optimizations, and the elimination of unnecessary equipment.”

Throughout this process, the company gains leverage for future vendor negotiations and reduces unnecessary expenses – thus, saving a patient’s hard-earned money and contributing to the continuous flow of supplies in healthcare.

Expanding Upon Laboratory Success

Accumen’s implementation of technology solutions, improvement of operational efficiencies, and dramatic cost reductions have made them a trusted partner within the healthcare industry. Because of their success, health system executives are quickly expanding the scope of services for Accumen beyond laboratory strategic sourcing.

Brent remarks, “Because of our successful laboratory strategic sourcing partnerships, many of our existing clients have requested that Accumen expand its services into other clinical specialties.”

To support this growth, Accumen has acquired talent on its supply chain team and is actively pursuing projects in orthopedic trauma implants, cardiac stents, custom packs, and robotics.

Their approach to these clinical categories varies from the lab because physician preferences heavily drive them, and they work closely with the clinical team to standardize supplies, leverage vendor volumes, and implement change.

The Future of Healthcare

When Brent’s journey with Accumen started almost a decade ago, he envisioned an organization that would partner with health systems throughout the country to implement process improvements, reduce supply and operational costs, and improve patient care.

Brent is thrilled to see his vision has come to reality, and that Accumen has grown from a start-up company to the most nationally recognized healthcare performance improvement partner in the U.S. He is confident that the next decade will bring additional success for Accumen clients and is excited for what’s ahead.

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